By Bamidel F. Oni
Gone are the days when Nigeria could boast of her rich and intact rainforest.
This natural endowment helped place the country alongside other rainforest rich countries in Sub-Saharan Africa and invariably a recognized zone in the extended rainforest belt of tropical Africa which stretches into the Congo Basin.
However, it is no news again that the glory days of the Rainforest of Nigeria are far gone. The extent of decline is such that would bring tears to the eyes of well minded conservationists that might have at one time or the other worked around the forests of Nigeria in its glory days.
The Nigerian Rainforest used to be an extensive one and quite a rich haven of biodiversity, both flora and fauna and also of note are the endemic species that made it distinguished and exotic.
Unfortunately, the consumerism ravaging the country has found a thriving ground in the Forestry sector, such that the national interest is more on the economic potential (Exploitation) of forest resources than the much needed emphasis on regeneration practices (Conservation and protection). This situation has degenerated into unsustainable pattern of exploitation with a well decorated façade of regeneration propaganda which is often in the form of monoculture plantation establishment.
Rather than putting more efforts on the regeneration of natural and endemic forest tree species, the focus of practice has been on the cheapest form of afforestation, monoculture plantation establishment. This form of regeneration practice encourages the establishment of single species plantations. Although, the basis of the idea is to help reduce the level of exploitation stress on the natural forests, but this good objective has become a notable platform of pretense for most public forest agencies in the country.
Now, the focus is to populate most forest reserves in the country with exotic and fast yielding forest species for their economic gains with less attention on natural and endemic species which are more important for the stability of the Rainforest ecosystem.
It is now a common sight to be welcomed into most forest reserves in the county by species of Teak (Tectona Grandis) and Gmelina aborea, all of which are exotic to our clime. But due to their fast yielding rate, they are adopted for most public tree planting activities in the country.
While this is going on, the stock of natural forest tree species is fast declining with the little to no attention they are presently receiving. So, in every way it’s not so far-fetched to assume that the ecological potential of Nigerian Forests is undermined.
The world of today recognizes the role of forests in climate change mitigation and ecological stabilization but the current state of the Nigerian Forest speaks ill of this global emphasis.
Recently, there has been some news making waves concerning the possibility of losing a part of the remaining Rainforest estate in Nigeria for the reason of road expansion. For a long time, Cross-River State has been a recognized State in the entire federation for its great performance as regards Forest conservation and protection.
The State is the home to the remaining tract of what used to be known as the Nigerian Rainforest Zone. However, the news about the impending road expansion brought fear to the hearts of many activists and conservationists in the country as it looks like the intact forest would be cleared for a not so important road construction which in essence is a desired (luxury) development and not a needed development.
Typical of many like projects, the defense line has been the replanting of every tree that would be felled during the clearing. However, since the common scenario in the country has been the replacement with the regular exotic species, one would wonder if this would be reason enough for the destruction of the massive and endangered ecosystem.
However, during the process of completing this write-up, news came in that the voice of the common people finally prevailed. The Government finally conceded to the outcry of the people, especially women, who live in close proximity to the forest and whose livelihood depends entirely on the forest.
This is quite a victory, not just for the common forest dependent people but for the environment at large as the world is a big ecosystem and the interrelationship that exists is such that whatever changes occur at one point affects not just a part but the entire system.
Although we have a good victory today, but still the fact remains that the last existing part of the Rainforest of Nigeria is clearly endangered.